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Water softeners are far more common in the UK than at first glance they might appear. With so many homes across the UK built in hard water areas, whilst the majority simply put up with the hard water coming through their water mains, a significant minority currently have taken the sensible step of doing something about it and improving their lifestyle situation.

But despite the attempts to share the message that our American cousins have known for decades – a message that has seen literally millions and millions of softeners purchased and installed across the States – in the UK we’re really only just waking up to the news that installing a water softener will result in lower energy usage and – take a deep breath…..lower energy bills. 15% lower is common, 20% lower is not unreasonable.

At a time when energy bills are heading in one direction only, and sadly that’s up, any investment that a) pays for itself in around two years and b) continues to save you money for as long as you use it seems to be an investment worth looking at closely – and worth recommending to your customers if they live in hard water areas of the UK.

Not prepared to accept the feedback from US citizens alone, in typical US fashion they decided to do some research.

A major independent research study in the USA carried out a couple of years ago, concluded that water softeners are amongst the ‘very best’ household energy savers. The full report can be found at http://www.wqa.org/BattelleReport.

The study found that instantaneous gas water heaters – similar to combi boilers here in the UK – operated on softened water maintained the original factory efficiency rating over a 15 year lifetime. But the study found that tankless water heaters completely failed to function because of scale ‘plugging’ in the downstream plumbing after only 1.6 years of equivalent hot water use on 26 gpg (440 ppm) hard water. Softened water, the report says, saves 34% of costs compared to operating on 20gpg (340 ppm) and saves 47% compared to operation on 30 gpg (530 ppm) hard water. Considering that many places in the UK have mains water at 500 ppm and higher, this puts the scale of the problem – no pun intended – into stark context.

As a consequence of the study, the Water Quality Association – an independent body in the USA, is now promoting water softeners in the USA as ‘the best energy saving device you can buy’.

This report highlights that by installing a water softener, if you live in a hard water area of the UK you will be “conservatively saving up to 20% a year on your energy bills because of the reduced demand on electrical energy supply from a power station or gas combusted in the water heating equipment.”

Heating engineers and installers are well aware of the damage that hard water can cause in heating systems and appliances – they see it pretty much every day of their lives if they work in hard water areas. But many are still to wake up to the very real opportunities that water softeners can offer them and their businesses.

At the risk of teaching granny to suck eggs, the basic principles of softening water are pretty straightforward. Water softeners work in reverse to nature. Rain water is naturally soft and only becomes hard when it filters down through limestone type rocks, picking up hardness impurities as it goes. A water softener does the reverse of this, ‘washing’ hard water through a resin bed that takes out the ‘hardness’ salts – calcium and magnesium – leaving you with softened water, the way nature intended.

If your customers live in a hard water area – which is around 60% of the UK, especially in London and the south east, East Anglia and the Home Counties – they will already know about hard water. Scum in the kettle. Scaling up of showerheads, limescale marks in the sink and loo.

But if that’s what can be seen easily, imagine what damage is being done where you can’t see it, in heating systems, in washing machines and dishwashers, prime targets for hard water damage. Just a 1.6mm build-up of scale on the inside of heating system surfaces can cause a 12% loss in heating efficiency in pipes, in radiators and on heat exchanger surfaces in boilers. Scale will also form around the heating coil and eventually fill a hot water cylinder. It’s estimated that the annual amount of hard water used by an average family of four contains a whopping 70kg of scale. Untreated limescale simply means wasting energy, wasting money and having to replace appliances and heating systems.

As we’ve alluded to already, the most welcome benefit for householders in the current economic climate, is that having softened water in the home can reduce heating bills significantly – 15% reductions in energy bills are commonplace, often more – and importantly, having a water softener installed will reduce maintenance costs on those appliances. Good for the planet. Good for homeowners pockets. An impressive double whammy.

You can install a water softener at anytime. They are quick and simple to install – usually no more than half a day’s work for a competent plumber or heating engineer. Just a minimum water pressure of 1.7 bar (25psi) and access to the mains water supply, drainage and electricity are required. Many installers offer a water softener as ‘part of the package’ when they install a new kitchen or bathroom, because they know that a water softener will help keep the customers investment looking as good as new. But, if you are called to undertake remedial work that has been caused by hard water, particularly replacing a boiler, a radiator or sections of pipework – that’s an excellent opportunity for you to take the customer through the benefits of a water softener.

Water softeners offer the gateway to a better lifestyle for customers – softer skin, shinier hair, softer gentler washing, less cleaning around the house, lower bills on cleaning materials and vitally, to lower energy bills at a time when everyone is looking for savings on utility bills. And for installers they offer a green way to open a new business income stream in 2013.

Wake up to softened water in 2013 – simply a greener way to keep customers happy.

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